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Book Arts

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S,M,L,XL 2000


Jose Dávila, S,M,L,XL 2000


A Boing Boing post last week featured book sculptor Brian Dettmer’s work. It got me thinking about another artist, Jose Dávila.  I came across Dávila’s work while researching criticism of Rem Koolhaas’ mega-book S,M,L,XL.  When Koolhaas created S,M,L,XL, he encouraged criticism of the publication as vulgar and confusing; that was the point. Nonetheless, the book was often written off as extravagant and empty. 

Dávila was one of the more offended critics. His reaction to the book involved its destruction for the purpose of his art. As an artist fascinated with the political conceptual art of the 60s and 70s, his work sought emphemerality, was site-specific and irreproducible. Dávila was convinced that theories of dematerialization were best conveyed not in the creation of books, but in their demolition.   For a project, he sliced S,M,L,XL into four pieces, each ranging in size from small, medium, large and extra-large pieces. Taking S,M,L,XL as the quintessence of the state of the art book publishing, Dávila conveyed his discontent by rendering the book useless as anything but a sculptural object. 

To him, even intact, the big books of art and architecture were unable to achieve a non-sculptural importance as the books were “expensive, over-designed publications that are usually entirely devoid of content.” This reception of S,M,L,XL is troubling because Dávila construes the wealth of content in the book (which could even be considered as too much) as nothing. While he has duly noted that the image rich publications like those of Koolhaas and Bruce Mau (graphic designer and co-author of S,M,L,XL) “sacrifice readability for the sake of flashing design, he neglects to engage the compromised readability for a productive result. Complicated doesn’t always equal unusable.

Dávila cannot counterbalance the book’s artistic merit with its role as commodified object.  In referring to the book as an unreadable prop, he is basically refusing to consider anything other than the black text on white paper in non-descript covers as books. S,M,L,XL is a legitimate manifesto, and the hallmark essay “Bigness” is frequently cited in architecture and urban planning texts. Part of the brilliance of S,M,L,XL and certainly integral in its success is the harmonious embodiment of aesthetic object and useful object. And because many critics encountered an entirely new and not readily understandable form in S,M,L,XL, their reactions only scratched the surface of the work’s complexities. 

Jose Dávila, Temporality is a Question of Survival (London: Camden Arts Centre, 2001), 30-32. 


Written by beckyquintal

March 23, 2009 at 1:26 am

Do Book Covers Matter Anymore?

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Carolyn Kellog, blogger at Jacket Copy, thinks that e-books will affect cover designs. What do you think? 

No one really buys CDs anymore, so it’s not that far-fetched to assume that album covers aren’t as important as they used to be. 

What should we expect from cover designs these days?

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March 14, 2009 at 12:59 am

Book Reviewer: Reading Is Not Dead.

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I’ve already mulled over the future of books. But what about book reviews? Some newspapers have cut book reviews from their print editions.  The LA Times now maintains a web-only book review presence.   Book editor David Ulin, the man in charge of the LA Times book website (Jacket Copy), takes an optimistic and open approach to the future of the book review. Jacket Copy has a large following, proving that the demand for a more interactive book culture exists.

In this article from Publisher’s Weekly, Ulin addresses an interesting point. Are we being too conservative about the future of books?

“One of the things that worries me about the book culture is the notion that all change is bad. This is much more conservative than I would have thought,” he says. Certain comments about the recent collapse of the Washington Post‘s Book World don’t sit well with him. “People are saying, ‘reading is dead!’ I finally ordered a Kindle and have to wait eight weeks for it, which indicates that reports of reading’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Will I lament the loss of Book World? Of course I will—but let’s think about what is viable now.”

Admittedly, I’m not exactly heralding the future of books. But I’m scared and unhappy with the direction that things have been going in (eh-hem KINDLE).

While I’m dubious at times, people who are hopeful and confident about the future of printed publications provide some comfort.  Certainly, we need some optimists among us skeptics! 

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March 14, 2009 at 12:39 am

Posted in Books

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More Proof

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More proof that if you’re in the market for an audio book, the Kindle’s text-to-speech feature isn’t going to cut it.

Watch video!

From the new Jimmy Fallon show

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March 10, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Books, The Kindle

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Is Print Media Really Not Interactive?

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In the ongoing debate about the death of print at the hands of the easy and aparently user-inclusive Internet, I have to question the assumption that print is a one way dialogue, not open to interpretation. I admit, this stance is a bit tricky to take if we’re talking about the dissemenation of hard facts (news) and maybe even if we’re talking about traditional novel. Newspapers and (most) books follow the same general format and don’t take advantage of the spatial relationship provided by printing on a collection of paper. For that reason, there are many versions of Huckleberry Finn, and sure, you get the same message regardless of which edition you read.

But what if we look at books as more than just the words they contain? What if the package itself and the way the words are arranged changed and infused the book object with relevant content that was not actually written?

One of the reasons that so many (including myself) find the internet invaluable is the ability to search and with little or not exhaustive effort and find what you want. This is thrilling, necessary and above all, practical and useful. What the internet lacks, however, is tactility and a spatial presence. We cannot underestimate the importance of what it means to hold and interact wth a book.

Here is where interaction needs to be defined. With the advent of blogs and commenting features, the assumption is that interaction only takes place within the larger community and when one’s voice can be directly included in the conversation itself (in the form of comments placed below blog posts and texts). I have to disagree.

I find it easy to define the way people read a book as an interaction. A book, like a blog, is a collection of decisions, and while clearly more editorial than an online publication, these decisions still ultimately affect the greater message that a book is disseminates. It is easy to lose sight of the gravity and importance of a book’s design when it is mediocre and uninspiring. However, when a designed book trascends its “bookness,” becoming part of the subject itself, the interaction that takes place not only begins to differ from user to user, but the interaction becomes essential to the experience of the publication.

I fear that with our insistance and dependance on the immediate, we forego the pleasures and rewards of an interaction that is not measureable through comments and page hits. You go to a blog, and click what you like. You pick up a book and read what grabs your atttention. Both are relevant, both should exist. As long as they fight against each other, we (creatures of convenince) will ultimately do a tremendous disservice to the art of writing and crafting reading experience.

No, this may not save any newspapers. Maybe magazines will flounder too. But book publishers shouldn’t admit defeat until they exhaust every possbility that smart design can bring to the medium.

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March 4, 2009 at 1:24 am

An Elegy for Content

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Content's Funeral

A few days ago, I was trying to explain to a friend how important it is for print media to capitalize on the object-ness of books and magazines.  Since it’s sometimes better to show than tell, I decided that I should use Rem Koolhaas’ Content (2004) as a prime example of what makes printed publications so great. Unfortunately, it is no longer in print and a new copy costs $120.00. It’s a shame that these books become commodities and rarities. They need to be available; they demonstrate the broad scope of architecture and invite individual experiences created by the reader. Unlike reading information on a screen, interacting with the book can be different for each person.

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February 23, 2009 at 1:54 am

The Kindle is HOT. But will we get burned?

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News about Amazon’s launch of the redesigned Kindle 2 was met with generally triumphant praise. It’s sleeker, faster and better than its predecessor. In theory, the Kindle is a great product. We love our iPhones and Blackberries, mostly because we need (or want?) to receive, read and send emails instantly. This same desire for supreme portability and instant gratification has only naturally migrated towards our reading habits. But should we be concerned? Are we eradicating books?

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February 16, 2009 at 8:49 pm